Eat better, exercise more. For decades this simple solution has been offered to address America’s obesity epidemic. It hasn’t worked. Today, nearly 40 percent of adults are obese, and according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, obesity is associated with poorer mental health and reduced quality of life. It’s also an underlying factor in the leading causes of death including: diabetes, heart disease, stroke and some types of cancer. Spending on obesity-related health problems has reached $147 billion annually.
And it’s getting worse. By 2030, half of U.S. adults are expected to be obese, and it is anticipated that one in four will be severely obese. These trends represent a crisis and an opportunity to look at obesity with a new lens. For too long, obesity has been seen as a matter of personal responsibility, and it’s time to expand the focus.
Do people have access to affordable, healthy foods in their community? Are there sidewalks or can they easily cross the street? Are there safe playgrounds? What about bike paths? We now know that the environment in which we live can be as important in achieving a healthy weight as the food on our plates. Blue Cross and Blue Shield companies are working to support healthier communities, designed to improve the health and wellness of residents. Here are some examples.
California - While popular, many wellness programs do little to improve overall health and wellness, often attracting those who already are healthy. Recognizing the need to diversify participation and reach more people, Blue Shield of California offers WellvolutionTM, a no-cost lifestyle intervention that supports well-being and can prevent, treat and even reverse disease. Offered as a benefit to members rather than as a workplace perk, the program takes a personalized, customizable approach to creating lifestyle changes – such as losing weight, managing stress, quitting smoking or improving diets. Members sign up online and complete a short survey outlining their health needs and goals. From there, they are matched with a personalized strategy that includes weekly action plans, digital coaching, recommended mobile apps and in-person resources. The hyper-personal approach matches individuals’ lifestyle needs with the types of programs they’re most likely to stick with. In just a few months, Blue Shield of California reports those enrolled in diabetes prevention programs saw an average weight loss of four percent and by doing so reduced their risk of developing the disease by 38 percent.
Illinois - With more than $250 million in investments and 1,700 new jobs in the last decade, the historic Pullman district on Chicago’s South Side is on the rise with historic preservation, refurbishment of iconic structures and other activities carried out under the auspices of the U.S. National Park Service. Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Illinois stepped into the urban renaissance and opened the Blue Door Neighborhood CenterSM to improve health outside a doctor’s office. No-cost programs, open to all, include fitness, education on reading food labels and planning healthy meals and social activities for seniors as well as workshops on smoking cessation and managing chronic conditions. During the summer, when many lower-income students lose access to school lunches, the center serves a free meal.
Massachusetts - In the Dorchester neighborhood of Boston, where the percentage of residents with heart disease, diabetes, hypertension and obesity are all among the highest in the city, there’s a new type of prescription that requires no trip to the pharmacy or concern about cost. Dot Rx, created in partnership with Blue Cross Blue Shield of Massachusetts (BCBSMA), connects patients with a peer coach who helps individuals set both personal and family goals around eating, exercise and engaging with the outdoors. Patients and their families also have access to an array of no- or low-cost neighborhood resources and activities to support them in achieving their goals. Currently, 500 families have been referred to the program and BCBSMA is analyzing the data to determine if it can be replicated statewide.
New York - BlueCross BlueShield of Western New York is an official partner of Canalside, a major state-supported economic development project that brought new buildings, public spaces and healthy activities to the city’s previously dormant waterfront. From free daily fitness classes that attract more than 12,000 people each summer to the more than 75,000 people who visit the ice rink each winter to enjoy ice skating, curling and other winter activities, Canalside has far exceeded all expectations. The area that once sat stagnant and empty is now buzzing with more than 1.5 million visitors annually exploring the 21-acre, mixed-use site, its neighboring state park and other newly developed areas connected by ferry and pedestrian pathways.
South Dakota and Iowa - The annual cost of lost productivity and medical treatment due to chronic disease in South Dakota, where more than half the population lives in rural areas, is estimated to be up to $7.5 billion. A community health initiative—Healthy HometownSM Powered by Wellmark—provides free consultations and proven tools and techniques to help create healthier neighborhoods and individuals. Developed by Wellmark Blue Cross and Blue Shield, Healthy Hometown has been utilized in 51 communities across Iowa and South Dakota, reaching communities that represent 14 percent of the population in South Dakota and 24 percent in Iowa, where roughly 40 percent of the population is living in rural areas.
Rhode Island - One of the most important activities to boost a child’s physical, mental and social well-being is also one of the simplest: play. Blue Cross & Blue Shield of Rhode Island, in collaboration with Playworks New England and the Rhode Island Healthy Schools Coalition, launched the #RecessRocksinRI initiative to train teachers and administrators to help children make the most of recess. Starting with 18 schools, in just three years the partnership has expanded to 80 schools in 26 school districts. The program, has reached more than 31,000 students.
All programs are property of their respective owners, used for identification purposes only, and are in no way associated or affiliated with the Blue Cross Blue Shield Association.